Today, finally, marks the first Western release of a game first announced over a decade ago. RTS and MMORPG hybrid Kingdom Under Fire 2 has been on a pre-release journey that few games can rival. This is no Duke Nukem Forever though, as developer Blueside has remained committed to the cause through twelve plus years of development. Following beta launches in Asia and Russia, and an entire rework of the game’s payment system, KUF2 is finally ready to bring its heroes and strategy to the West under publisher Gameforge.
Prior to launch, we had the chance to speak with Gameforge’s executive producer Botond Nemeth and product management lead Noemi Feller, as well as Blueside’s business development manager David Wang and creative director Jubo Kim about the long road KUF2 has been on, the trials and tribulations faced along the way, and why now is the perfect time to bring the game to stores.
Kingdom Under Fire 2 Interview: a strategy twelve years in the making
Prima: Kingdom Under Fire 2 has been through a rocky road of development since its original reveal back in 2008. What made [Gameforge] decide to pick up the license? And why aim for a Western release now?
Gameforge: We’ve been looking at the game for a long time and we always thought it was an interesting product, right? It just wasn’t ever ready for a Western release. It has been in development for a long time but once we saw that Blueside was getting ready to run Beta versions in Russia and Asia, that was when we thought we had a chance to pick it up and bring it to Western audiences.
Blueside: I think the development of this game started off with the idea of bringing in the action-RPG and the RTS to create a hybrid which has never been attempted before. We were the first ones to attempt it and I believe we’re the first ones to achieve it. Why we think it’s ready to be launched in the West now is because…
This game has a long history of repeating a lot of trial and error. We’ve faced a lot of problems but we were finally able to find the perfect balance between the RTS and the RPG features and we believe that we’ve perfected the game by finding the perfect balance. Recently, after a lot of internal testing, we’ve felt a great amount of satisfaction in the gameplay and we think it’s finally ready to be launched in the Western market.
Prima: Can you tell us about the development process up to this stage? How has each version of KUF2 changed through development since 2008?
Blueside: Although the process itself has changed over the years, we have always wanted certain elements to click with new and former players from the moment they jump into the game. The world of Bersia is filled with rich lore and story, and so we needed to ensure that these elements were familiar enough for former players to enjoy, while being accessible and fresh enough for everyone else jumping into the series.
Same thing with the classes and the troops. We want to make sure that these are fun, familiar, and dynamic, but also that they feel unique to the world of Kingdom Under Fire 2. As such, we have always allowed our writers, designers, coders, testers, and all developers to work in unison in order to ensure that the content functions cohesively through the unique hybrid experience we are looking to provide our players with.
The game constantly evolves through additional development. Due to the change to a “buy to play” model from free-to-play the content of the game will change as well. A lot of the features that were restricted are now being opened up to enable a well-balanced user experience that fits the gameplay in a more enjoyable way.
Prima: So what has changed in the jump from a free-to-play to buy-to-play model?
Blueside/Gameforge: Players can obtain all troops, materials and in-game currency freely without having to spend any money after the initial purchase. Everyone will play on equal ground and your time investment in the game will determine how strong your characters and troops are, nothing else.
In addition, all benefits from the buy to play packages, including the booster packs, can be earned from players with Cubic, which is a currency you can obtain by doing daily quests or other activities in-game. You will not be able to buy Cubic with real money. The main goal is that all progression and strength-related items are obtained by investing playtime and playing the game.
We also switched around the classes and the troops, starting off with 5 initial classes, and 80 different types of troops at launch, as we felt we will be more observant of content updates and balancing every time we introduce a new element to the game.
Prima: How much have the development studio and the people behind the game changed over the years since its original reveal?
Blueside: Well, [Kim] is the main guy of the development team and he’s been with the project since the very beginning. Of course there were a lot of different developers that joined and left the project but I would say there are a significant number of core personnel that have been with the game for a significant amount of time.
Prima: What problems did you encounter when trying to balance the RPG action with the RTS side?
Blueside: So I think the biggest challenge we faced was finding the perfect statistics of the hero and the troops, [things like] the attack and defense numbers. There are a lot of different troops and a lot of different ranks of troops [that the hero can fight].
In the Russian version, for example, it was very difficult to maintain a steady sensation of the hero being in command because we couldn’t find the perfect balance of the stats. That means sometimes [the hero] felt weaker than certain single-unit troops, which didn’t make sense of course.
There are stats for single unit troops and even within the multi-unit troops there is an attack stat of a single unit troop. They’re all very different and to find that perfect balance was very complicated because there are a lot of different combinations of which hero could face which troop. Maintaining that sensation while doing the calculation was very difficult and time-consuming. That’s the part that required a lot of trial and error.
Prima: Speaking of heroes, what do you feel differentiates each of them and which is your personal favorite?
Blueside: In addition to the rich story and lore that provides background and meaning to each class, we want each one to play differently from the next, even if there are unavoidable similarities such as attacking from afar if they are ranged, or from nearby if they are melee-based. We want for every class to feel and play differently not only by itself, but also on the battlefield. There are tons of cool movies where you see different types of heroes jumping into epic battle sequences. Now, you can do that yourself with your favorite class, while leading your army, which is also composed of many different class types, into victory.
As far as favorites are concerned, it really depends on who you ask at Blueside and Gameforge! Noemi loves playing the Berserker and the Spellblade, but Jubo really cherishes the Elementalist, and the Gunslinger. We also have a lot of people that prefer the Ranger, so as you can see, it really depends on what sort of gameplay mechanics people enjoy, or what type of story they wish to explore.
Prima: Can players swap between heroes as they play, or are they locked to one after starting?
Blueside: From the moment they start playing the game, players start to progress through the story from the eyes of each class, as they all have backgrounds and motivations nearly as diverse as their gameplay. Once players select a class they will have to start from the beginning should they choose to start the game with a different one.
Prima: Can you tell us a bit more about the character creation options in the game? How much can you customize each class in terms of looks?
Gameforge: As you may have seen in the clips where we show the character selection and customization options, players really get a huge amount of options for what they can change in the aspect of their characters.
Prima: Which class would you say is the easiest to pick up for a newcomer to the series? And which is the trickiest?
Blueside/Gameforge: For users who are not familiar with hero action, I recommend the Berserker, as this class is highly durable and defensive, and is easy to operate while staying alive.
The protective barrier, which is triggered by the emergence of darkness from the Iron Wall, greatly enhances the vitality of the player, allowing them to have more time to adapt to the conditions of battle and build up proper defensive or offensive responses.
On the other hand, the Gungslinger and Ranger classes require swift judgment and delicate control. Both classes lack self-healing and survival skills, making it difficult to cope with accumulated damage. However, both classes boast strong firepower, and in the case of Rangers, [attacking] a hero like the Elementalist they could do near-instant damage if the correct timing input combo was achieved.
Each hero has a very different way of playing with his or her own manipulation. Check them out and see which ones fit your gameplay style the best.
Prima: Looking at the strategy side, previous beta versions of Kingdom Under Fire 2 limited your command to three sets of units per battle. Why did you decide on three units instead of more or less?
Blueside: We've had a lot of thoughts and discussions regarding troop operations over the years. While it is advantageous to manipulate more troops to play more tactical, there are also side effects such as the increase in the difficulty of manipulation of the troops. What we're aiming for is a large-scale battle, and we're targeting for at least 10 troops for each side of faction.
As you can see from the game, there can be a lot of urgent combat situations where not a single
troop can be properly controlled. For the sake of better understanding, it has been compared as
similar to operating four other champions while playing LoL with your main.
So instead of one player manipulating too many troops and raising the entry barrier, we've
reduced the entry barrier by distributing the troops to several players in a way that allows them
to play cooperatively. During the process we’ve concluded that the optimum number of troops per player is three, and will continue to monitor it as more people get their hands on the game.
Prima: Can you tell us more about the hub worlds and multiplayer areas of the game outside of battles? What will players do in these zones, how does it impact the story or your characters?
Blueside: The World Map allows you to enter various [areas of] the entire world. Fields are MMORPG areas where you can play as heroes, and missions are RTS area where players use troops. Basically, heroes go back and forth between fields and missions according to the context of the scenario. Both serve their purposes in driving forward different narrative aspects of the game.
Prima: How are players able to interact in the field areas?
Blueside: You can use the auction house to interact or right-click the user to perform various actions, such as trade and party invitations.
Prima: Do you need to take part in MMO-style quests later on or can you stick to the battles? Which do you see as the “core” multiplayer of KUF2?
Blueside: In the latter half, RTS is more prominent than MMO and therefore players can just focus on the battle. The core fun, only our games can provide, are the missions with strategic battles, and we're preparing such content for players to enjoy.
Playing a lot of missions, acquiring and upgrading many troops, mastering their operations, will have the players wanting to compete with other users and will naturally encourage them to enter PVP contents. The PVP is comprised of 1v1 heroes and 3v3 battles. The 1v1 hero combat is fought using only heroes, and 3v3 is fought against the enemy's army in cooperation with the team. We encourage players to develop their command skills and foster their troops to compete with opponents.
Prima: Was it difficult to balance hero and troop strengths to work single-player and also be balanced in Multiplayer?
Blueside: It was very challenging to achieve the balance between heroes and troops we have finally reached after literally years of designing and testing. This was one of the areas in which we've spent most of our development time.
Unlike other typical games, we had to put a lot of units on the screen, and we had to put in a variety of functions to reduce the load. And that's a huge impact on the balance between a single hero and a multi-member troop, and we had to figure out how to improve it. After various attempts we were able to achieve the optimum balance, but it took us a lot of time.
Prima: What one tip would you give to new players in Kingdom Under Fire 2? How should players approach battles in KUF2? Regularly swapping between views or setting general strategies then getting stuck in with a hero?
Blueside: KUF2 is not a hero action game. A hero is very obviously very powerful, but that's only when they’re protected by the troops, as they are still susceptible to the general conditions of the battlefield.
When engaging in a large-scale battle with the enemy, the hero should be placed in a safe position amongst his or her units where they can safely lead their troops into battle. Heroes can do a great job not just fighting directly, but supporting troops with tactical skills behind them, or jumping in to support certain units and attempt to maintain balance in the battlefield.
Until players become familiarized with the different mechanics, we recommend for them to be active in using the troops rather than the hero, read the flow of the battle, and learn how to use the hero at the right time. Practice can lead to perfection, but hard work and the ability to outsmart your opponent will always increase your chances or victory.
Prima: What should players aim for when picking units for their armies?
Blueside: Once you understand your troop’s nature, you'll be able to choose the suitable troop for specific purposes on the battlefield.
If an enemy unit has airborne troops, you have to choose a troop that can attack airborne units in order to have a fighting chance, and if the enemy has a Scorpion, troops like a gunner or a firebomber would be appropriate to counterattack them.
Learn the characteristics of many troops and you will be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your enemies more swiftly.
Prima: In your opinion, what is the strongest unit in the game?
Blueside: There's no such thing as the strongest troop. Any troop has its strengths and weaknesses. The strongest troop is the one being used at the right circumstances.
Thank you to Gameforge and Blueside for taking the time for the interview. For more Kingdom Under Fire 2 coverage, have a read of our preview! As always you can follow Prima Games on Twitter and YouTube to stay up to date with gaming guides news and more!